What is the role of the public health sector?
Trauma remains embedded in the body, affecting an individual’s behaviour and their long-term risk of disease. But building resilience can mitigate the impact of trauma. Chronic disease prevention and management are largely dependent on individuals engaging in healthy habits and adhering to treatment.
A trauma-informed approach can provide a fresh lens through which to view chronic disease. But what should we consider?
Recognising the widespread impact of trauma. People with chronic diseases repeatedly report the stigma they experience in healthcare settings, which results in them accessing care less frequently and having a lower quality of life. To change this, healthcare professionals can switch from an attitude of ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’ Remembering that trauma can be at the root of a person’s behaviour can make all the difference in healthcare.
Providing person-centred care and psychological support. Supportive relationships are protective factors that build resilience against trauma. Healthcare professionals and people with chronic diseases should build high-quality partnerships. This will provide the right environment for them to understand the cause of behaviours and overcome barriers to improved wellbeing. When trauma is at the root of disease, psychological support is a key aspect of treatment, not just a nice-to-have. Practitioners can help individuals gain a better sense of control over their care and health.
Screening for trauma and investing in effective interventions. We underestimate the willingness of people who have experienced trauma to share their problems. Screening for adverse experiences should become a routine part of clinical practice for children and adults, as it has the potential to improve the understanding of disease, risks, needs and challenges. Effective interventions can mitigate the physiological effects of trauma, but further research is needed to identify new approaches that are scalable and reach the most vulnerable population groups.
Collaborating across sectors for advocacy efforts. Promoting public health and reducing health inequalities requires integration across sectors. Mental health education and services, childcare, poverty programmes, immigration services and criminal justice practices are among the key priorities in need of a trauma-informed approach that can help protect the health of our society.
There are numerous aspects of trauma-informed policy and care. Although this list is not exhaustive, it can get us started and help broaden our understanding of chronic disease beyond ‘lifestyle’ risk factors.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.